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National specific: Not rural area, but small towns and suburbs have lowest employment rate

de Marin Pana , 24.9.2018

The degree of urbanisation classification based on the European methodology (LAU 2 level or Local Administrative Units, formerly NUTS 5) is made in urban centres (large cities), cities and suburbs (small towns and adjacent areas to major cities) and rural areas, based on the principle of population density on squares of 1 km.

Basically, there are densely populated areas, intermediately populated areas and sparsely populated areas.

We have urban centres (at least 50% of the population live in an urban centre, cities and suburbs) – less than 50% live in an urban centre but over 50% in an urban agglomeration and rural areas – more than 50% of the population lives in sparsely populated areas.

Each urban centre must cover at least 75% of the population of a city. This approach ensures that all urban centres are represented by at least one city, even though this urban centre accounts for less than 50% of the population of an LAU 2 administrative unit. Simply put, urban centres along with cities and suburbs can be aggregated in urban areas and the rest, in rural areas.

These methodological explanations are absolutely necessary to correctly perceive how Romania individually distinguishes itself in the European context in terms of employment rate distribution by the degree of urbanization.  

Besides the relatively low figure of 68.8% (the Europe 2020 strategy requires for an employment rate of at least 75% at the EU level, but only set a target of 70%), we hold an atypical position of the intermediately populated areas, (small) cities and suburbs.

In developed Western countries (such as Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, etc.), this employment indicator is the highest in rural areas. In the Eastern EU, at our Bulgarian and Hungarian neighbours, as well as in the Baltic countries or Poland, rural areas register the lowest employment rate.

In contrast, although it has the highest employment rate in urban centres, Romania registers the lowest level Not in rural areas, but in the area with the intermediate density of cities and suburbs (the only countries that have this borderline distribution are not exactly like us, Ireland and Cyprus).

This is an important feature that we should consider in the development programs and for lowering differences between urban and rural areas.

Basically, there is a clear distinction in our case between large urban agglomerations and small towns or areas with a low urbanization degree. Which, despite the fact they do not qualify as rural areas, they are islands of under-employment, implicitly of poverty and underdevelopment.

How other EU states are

For reference, we mention that the highest employment rates in the 20-64 age group were registered in Sweden (81.8%), Germany (79.2%), Estonia (78.7%), the Czech Republic (78.5%), the United Kingdom (78.2%), the Netherlands (78%), Denmark (76.9%), Lithuania (76%) and Austria (75.4%) and these states are already above the target level for 2020, of 75%.

At the other end of the spectrum, we find Greece (57.8%, despite an increase of 1.6 percentage points last year), Italy (62.3%), Croatia (63.6%) and Spain (65.5%). The Balkan – Latin contrast with the North of the continent (which also includes three states in the former Eastern bloc) explains, at least partially, the chronic competitiveness gap.

On top by gender gap in employment

It is noteworthy, as another national specific, not detailed by degrees of urbanization (although it would be interesting) the gap of over 17 percentage points between employment rates in men and women, where we are among the countries with the highest levels in the field, the record being held by Malta (26.1 pp.), Italy (19.8 pp.) and Greece (19.7 pp.).

It is a fact that we are positioned, from this perspective, before Poland and Hungary and far before Bulgaria. A country that, surprisingly from this point of view, has, in terms of the gender gap in employment, a similar level to Germany and France. With the men category at a minimum distance from the EU average, but with the women category at more than six percentage points below the related average.


  • Employment rate of the population between 20-64 years (%) in some EU countries
  • Total    men     women                        difference
  • EU 28
  • Romania
  • Poland
  • Hungary
  • Bulgaria
  • France
  • Germany


If we were to overlap the two specific characteristics of Romania, the need for a significant increase in the number of jobs would result, as a national priority, especially for women population in small towns and suburbs.

Or, if you want, the former policy of the socialist era aimed at creating “complementary” enterprises for women in the new cities that emerged across the country following the urbanization policy.

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